Haiti President Martelly launches housing initiative

The first morning Alexandra Simin awoke in the concrete house, the young mother of two cried. Then she laughed uncontrollably.

“There was a time I thought I would never get out of there,” she said. “All I ever had while in there were sleepless nights.”

There was Place St. Pierre, a modestly-clean town square that turned into a makeshift refugee camp after Haiti’s devastating Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake forced more than 1 million people to flee their destroyed or damaged homes in search of shelter.

Almost two years later, the tents and tarps are slowly disappearing.

For weeks, families like Simin’s have quietly moved out of the camp and into permanent homes as part of a housing initiative launched by Haitian President Michel Martelly. With help from the International Organization for Migration, families are getting $500 in rental subsidies. It’s part of a larger program Martelly launched recently to target the town square and five other Port-au-Prince tent cities hoping to find a permanent solution to reconstruction’s most vexing problem: housing.

“We have a plan, we have a vision,” said Patrick Rouzier, the presidential adviser spearheading the housing initiative.

That vision revolves around 30,000 people living in six camps from 16 Port-au-Prince neighborhoods, where more than a half-million people remain in tents. Dubbed 16/6, the $98 million project is being funded by foreign donors who are hoping its success will become the blueprint for reconstructing the country. The plan calls for relocating residents to new homes in rebuilt neighborhoods, while also providing rental subsidies for permanent housing.

“We want to build communities,” Rouzier said. “We may not have solutions for everything, but we are doing concrete projects to implement that vision and we are taking decisions.

“We don’t have the means to rebuild a house for everyone. It’s impossible,” he added.

For now, Rouzier admits that he doesn’t know which of the various financial and housing models will work in Haiti, a country already saddled with land titling issues, substandard housing and a 70 percent unemployment rate even before the quake.

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